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Pawlenty, Dems to talk over budget

ST. PAUL - Call it spring training for state budget negotiations. Gov. Tim Pawlenty has invited Democratic legislative leaders to his office today for early discussions on lawmakers' main job this session: passing a two-year state budget and solv...

ST. PAUL - Call it spring training for state budget negotiations.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has invited Democratic legislative leaders to his office today for early discussions on lawmakers' main job this session: passing a two-year state budget and solving the projected $4.6 billion budget deficit.

"We'll be talking about the state of the session and some of the areas that we hopefully can make some progress on and some of the remaining challenges," Pawlenty told reporters Wednesday.

The Republican governor went on to criticize Democratic budget-balancing proposals that call for tax increases and said unlike a budget proposal he unveiled, DFL plans lack details.

"We don't want to push everything to the last minute," he said.

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High-level budget negotiations typically do not begin in earnest until the final weeks of a legislative session.

Pawlenty said he is concerned that Democrats' plan to pass budget bills by a week before the Legislature's required May 18 adjournment does not allow time to reach a compromise if he vetoes the bills.

"That's not ideal, and I would ask them to try to accelerate that," he said.

Unusual testimony

Rep. Torrey Westrom often discusses bills in legislative committees, but it usually occurs in Minnesota House committees.

That changed briefly Wednesday when Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, went before a Senate committee to urge passage of a bill making it easier for people who are deaf or blind to access state documents and Web sites.

Westrom is legally blind, having lost his eyesight in a 1987 car accident, and uses special computer equipment to review legislation and other printed and online documents.

"This is something that is long overdue, in my opinion," Westrom said of greater accessibility.

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The Senate State and Local Government Operations and Oversight Committee supported the bill on a voice vote.

Bridge bill moving

Large commercial trucks should be prohibited from using the aging Stillwater Lift Bridge, said lawmakers and the city's mayor.

Bills by Republicans Sen. Ray Vandeveer of Forest Lake and Rep. Matt Dean of Dellwood would restrict trucks weighing more than 26,000 pounds from using the bridge that spans the St. Croix River. They are meant to target semitrailers.

The lawmakers said they still want smaller trucks, such as moving company vehicles and package delivery trucks, to have bridge access.

Proponents cited safety problems, traffic congestion and law enforcement concerns as reasons to push for the weight limit. Current law limits access to vehicles up to 80,000 pounds.

Gift bill pulled

Sen. John Marty told senators Wednesday his legislation tightening a pharmaceutical gift ban was important - and then he pulled his bill amid opposition.

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After committee testimony, Marty, DFL-Roseville, said he lacked votes needed to pass the bill, so did not seek a vote in the Senate Business, Industry and Jobs Committee.

Wente works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or swente@forumcomm.com

Related Topics: TIM PAWLENTY
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